Not letting the dust settle

Collection items collecting dust Ickworth

Part of Gabby's role within the Conservation team is to monitor and help stop any dust building up on our beautiful and historic collection items around the house. It is a daily struggle to not let the dust settle and requires a consistent approach to conservation cleaning.

Why do you monitor the dust levels in the house?

Dust is carried into the house by people on their clothing and footwear on a daily basis. If left, dust levels can build up quickly and become sticky and difficult to remove. This can cause discolouration to objects, making them appear dull in colour. To avoid this and maintain high standards of presentation, we hoover all floors and dust all flat surfaces every day. Twice per year we use scaffolding to remove dust from height and deep clean sensitive items. We monitor dust levels to track where dust is falling within the house to maintain an effective cleaning routine.

How do you collect the data?

We place dust monitors in various locations along the visitor route such as doorways, staircases, window bays and next to fragile objects such as ceramics and textiles. The monitors are made up of photo slides with a small sticky label attached to the back which the dust sticks to. Once a month we analyse the monitors under a microscope and calculate the percentage spread of dust. This shows which areas of the house receive the most dust. We also closely monitor the type of dust that we see such as clothing fibres, grit, stones and dirt.

What is the dust usually made up of?

Dust is largely made up of clothing fibres, grit and mud from shoes, prams and wheelchairs and a small amount of skin and plant particles. Dust is carried into the house by people and shaken off from hip to shoulder height when walking and deposited from footwear. If not removed carefully, dust particles can scratch and cause damage to the surface of objects. To prevent this we use special conservation brushes to gently remove dust particles from sensitive objects. Types of brushes that we use include pony hair, hog’s hair, squirrel and badger hair brushes.

How do the dust levels inform our daily routines and care of the collection?

Monitoring dust allows us to adapt our cleaning routines to focus on the dustiest areas of the house. Doorways, the Servants Quarters, the Entrance Hall and the Dining Room tend to receive the most dust as they are first on the visitor route. We manage dust in these areas by using effective matting in entranceways to catch grit and by cleaning in detail, for example twice per week we dust skirting boards, fireplaces and underneath cabinets. Dust monitoring also highlights sensitive objects that may require more frequent cleaning. For example, once a week we use a soft pony hair brush to gently remove dust from two delicate Chinese chests which receive a lot of surface dirt.